Friday, 25 March 2011
Justice and mercy
Angelo, one of the central characters of the play, is a puritan who has no doubts about pursuing justice at the expense of mercy. He is also guilty of greater sin than those he condemns and the play seems to swing towards mercy as the greater and more divine attribute. Rather than being a wholly modern and woolly liberal sentiment, this sense of mercy as most truly divine was evident in former times. The contrast between human and divine justice is also key; God's justice is perfect as he sees the heart, human justice is of necessity flawed. It has amazed me recently to read many conservative blogs discussing Bell's universalism and harping upon hell as "justice for all." Just as strikingly there is a seeming obliviousness to the Christian concept that judging is best left to God, we judge at our peril. I think Shakespeare would have smiled and thought that across the centuries puritans do not change their spots.
I leave you with Isabella's plea to Angelo to realise his own frailty and humanity, and in that knowledge of his own vulnerablity to find the divine quality of mercy. It is a good message for Lent and Easter as well.
Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once;
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you be,
If He, which is the top of judgment, should
But judge you as you are? O, think on that;
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man new made.